The joy of using a slow cooker is that you can get a meal going in the morning and forget about it until dinner time. But it can be a real disappointment when you open your fragrant stew only to discover that your meat is cooked, but not the vegetables. Ever wondered why your potatoes and carrots are still hard after being in the slow cooker?
Potatoes and carrots may be hard after being in a slow cooker because they have not heated enough to cook through. Cook these veg for 4 hours on high or 7 hours on low. To soften potatoes and carrots in a slow cooker, chop them smaller, place them at the bottom of the dish, and add more liquid.
To avoid the frustration of undercooked potatoes and carrots in the slow cooker, it’s necessary to understand how these vegetables cook and how a slow cooker works for cooking them. A few easy tips will change how you cook starchy veg and transform your slow cooker into a vegetable cooking machine.
Does Your Slow Cooker Get Hot Enough To Cook Potatoes And Carrots?
Potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables can be tricky to cook in a slow cooker simply because of the high temperatures needed to rupture their cell membranes, lose structure and become soft. To achieve complete softness, these veg need to be brought to a boiling point, which is 212⁰F (100⁰C).
Because the idea of a slow cooker is to cook low and slow for a long time, some crockpots don’t reach boiling point, cooking your food at around 195⁰F (91⁰C). This temperature is not hot enough to cook carrots and potatoes properly – but there are some tips you can follow to help them to soften.
How Long Do Potatoes And Carrots Take To Soften In A Slow Cooker?
- If the slow cooker is on high, it should take three to four hours to soften your carrots and potatoes.
- If the slow cooker is on low, it should take seven to eight hours.
- The automatic setting begins the cooking process on high for a couple of hours, then lowers the temperature to a simmer. This setting is ideal for carrots and potatoes.
The time potatoes and carrots take to soften in a slow cooker depend on the setting of your slow cooker – most crock pots can be set on high, low, or automatic and vary in temperature. Check out my article on cooking on high vs cooking on low.
A “slow cooker” acts as its name suggests, cooking slowly. This means food will take roughly 5-6 times longer to cook in a slow cooker on high than in a pot on an ordinary stove. So, if a stew of carrots and potatoes normally takes 40 minutes to cook, they will take 5-6 times longer in a slow cooker on high – that’s 3-4 hours, and even longer on slow setting.
Patience is the key to the slow cooker – and the joy of it, as you can leave it and carry on doing other things. Slow cooking vegetables may take a long time but is still considered healthy as the nutrients stay in the dish.
Tips To Soften Potatoes And Carrots In A Slow Cooker
Potatoes and carrots can take a long time to soften, especially if you are cooking them as part of a stew or soup where other ingredients need a long, slow simmer. Here are some tips you can follow to help you produce delicious, tender vegetables.
Chop the veg consistently
For starchy vegetables to cook through properly, you need to chop them into small, consistent pieces. Any shape will do e.g. batons or circles, but just be consistent with the size and shape.
Leaving carrots and potatoes whole in a soup or stew will ensure that they don’t soften.
Randomly sized chunks of veg also don’t cook consistently, so you will end up with an unappetizing mixture of cooked and uncooked veg.
Layer the food in the slow cooker
Another key to cooking potatoes and carrots more efficiently in your slow cooker is to layer your vegetables near the bottom of the slow cooker where it is hottest. Then layer your meat on top of them. This layering ensures that the meat and vegetables will be done at the same time.
If you prefer your carrots with some crunch, layer them in the middle of the slow cooker. Place baby vegetables, including baby carrots, on top of the other food. Baby and tender vegetables will need less cooking time to remain crisp and delicate.
Keep the veg immersed in liquid
Because they remain closed during cooking, slow cookers require far less water to cook food than normal. However, for a stew or soup, you will still require some liquid.
Layering your veg at the bottom of the slow cooker also means it remains immersed in liquid and gains flavor from the meat. The liquid helps to retain a high temperature and soften the vegetables.
Only fill the slow cooker halfway
A slow cooker is designed only to be half-filled for optimal efficiency. Overfilling a slow cooker results in undercooked food, while putting too little food in the slow cooker can result in burnt, overcooked food. See how much water you need in a slow cooker in my article.
Start cooking on high
If you find that your potatoes and carrots are always undercooked, try starting the cooking period on high to raise the temperature quickly. Cook on high for an hour or so and then turn it down to low to simmer. Some crockpots have an automatic setting, which follows this process. A programmable slow cooker is very useful to set cooking times as well.
Keep the lid on securely.
To keep the temperature of your slow cooker high and consistent for best cooking results, make sure the lid is on securely. The lid is an integral part of how a slow cooker works. The steam from the food can’t escape, so it condenses, keeping your food moist and tender.
An ill-fitting lid could cause hard potatoes and carrots as both moisture and heat escape from the crockpot, drying out the food and reducing the cooking temperature at the same time.
Don’t be tempted to open the slow cooker unless you are adding ingredients – even if that rich and luscious flavor fills the kitchen. Heat escapes very easily, and it will take the slow cooker longer to reach the optimal temperature again. It basically sets back your cooking time.
Can You Overcook Potatoes And Carrots In A Slow Cooker?
You can overcook food in a slow cooker, but it is unlikely that potatoes and carrots will overcook unless cooked on high for a long time. If you add already cooked or par-cooked vegetables to the slow cooker, you need to watch out for overcooking as they could go mushy.
Delicate vegetables such as green veg, leafy greens, and zucchini will overcook much more easily. See more in my article about overcooking vegetables in the slow cooker.
Do You Have To Cook Veg Before Putting It In The Slow Cooker?
There is no essential need to cook vegetables before putting them in your slow cooker. The only exception is to brown vegetables in a pan, such as onions, which add depth of flavor and color from caramelization.
If you are using onions
Onions will soften in a slow cooker, but they won’t brown and add that gorgeous, caramelized flavor to your stew or soup. If you want that fried onion base, brown your onions in a pan before adding them to the slow cooker.
If you didn’t put your veg in early
If you are making a stew or soup and forget to add your root vegetables early in the process, likely, they won’t cook in time. In this case, add cooked vegetables to the dish about half an hour before serving so that they can heat through. Be careful of overcooking your vegetables.
To cook potatoes and carrots in the slow cooker as part of a hearty soup or stew, chop the raw veg into consistent sizes. Place them towards the bottom of the slow cooker immersed in liquid and make sure they reach a high temperature. Even if you cook these starchy veg for hours, it is unlikely that you will overcook them.